Why philanthropy is more important than ever

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With millions of lives lost and countless others left jobless since coronavirus struck in early 2020, there is a dire need for philanthropy.

Philanthropy stakeholders believe this is a golden moment for the world to unite around generosity and giving in an attempt to eliminate some of the global challenges which have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

“A lot of people have lost their lives, a lot of families have been torn apart, and there’s been financial crippling around the world because of coronavirus. But at the same time, humanity was heading to something far worse than Covid,” said British contemporary artist Sacha Jafri who is known for his philanthropic activities, having raised close to $60 million for charities around the world.

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Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair has embarked a mission to help educate thousands of refugee children in the region – and wants to encourage others to do their part through open and institutionalised philanthropy

“It is our opportunity to make real social change. If we don’t take it, we will never ever change or learn,” continued Jafri.

Working from Dubai, Jafri has just put the final touches on the world’s largest painting, The Journey of Humanity, which will be auctioned to raise $30 million for charities working with children most affected by coronavirus.

Aside from heightening the need for philanthropy, coronavirus has also made philanthropic organisations re-examine the way they work. There is no longer time for philanthropists to work independently on separate projects because dealing with the negative outcomes of the pandemic requires efficient and timely collaborations, industry experts said.

“What Covid did was fuel a drive to work better together. It created a drive for more partnerships and philanthropic organisations to become more aware of one another. So the idea that one donor could find a solution on their own has been blown out of the water completely,” said Sonia Ben Jaafar, CEO of Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education, one of the largest privately funded philanthropic education initiatives in the Arab world.

“Rather than us doing something for education in this little pocket and someone else doing something for health in another pocket, we are going to work more collectively and have a greater impact hopefully,” added Ben Jaafar.

Sonia Ben Jaafar, CEO of Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education

To illustrate her point, Ben Jaafar gave an example of a virtual roundtable co-hosted by Al Ghurair Foundation with Save the Children, Education Cannot Wait and the World Bank entitled Meeting Our Promises on Refugee Education during Covid-19.

“We brought together senior government, foundations, international donors, NGOs and philanthropists from different areas and backgrounds who committed to sharing information openly through producing a whitepaper on outcomes because the reality is we simply can’t solve this by ourselves,” she said.

“Philanthropy is not about the amount of money you throw at something, it is about gathering the right people together with the right intentions. This is far more powerful than any amount of money,” said Jafri.

British contemporary artist Sacha Jafri is known for his philanthropic activities

Philanthropists are also eyeing charitable causes differently now that coronavirus has brought healthcare and bio-medics to the forefront, said Murtaza Hashwani, chairman of the Hashoo Foundation, a non-profit organisation which has been involved in philanthropic work in South East Asia for six generations of the Hashwani family.

“At one point, it was very traditional investments where you were investing in social impact or social enterprise but now philanthropists are looking at things differently. They are looking at what is coming out of this pandemic and considering what to invest in, be it medicine or biotech,” said Hashwani.

“What people are realising, from a philanthropy point of view, is that this pandemic is just one of many that will keep coming: it’s not just going to go. I speak to friends and ask them what their investment strategy is, from the philanthropy side, and they say it’s not into impact investment as much anymore; maybe it’s into biotech and other areas, anticipating another pandemic down the line,” added Hashwani.

This does not mean, however, that there has been a complete shift towards healthcare donations to the determent of other causes. Philanthropy stakeholders believe many needs could still emerge from the pandemic that would garner their attention.

“Philanthropy is about giving back to areas of need and I don’t think we have seen exactly where the need is as the world is still in a lockdown or reaction mode,” said Hashwani.

“For us as a foundation, we have certain projects but we are also waiting to see what the needs of tomorrow would be. Unemployment is definitely going to be a need but in terms of the causes or areas you would one want to give to, it is still not very clear for us today; I still find it too early,” he said.

Murtaza Hashwani, chairman of the Hashoo Foundation

For now, philanthropic organisations in the region continue to donate to mainly education and women empowerment related causes, two areas which they believe are most in line with their target for outcomes-based and impactful giving.

“Abdallah Al Ghurair, when he gave one-third of his wealth to the foundation, was very clear that it needs to focus on education for elevated livelihood. Same thing for our chairman Abdul Aziz al Ghurair when he created his refugee education fund, he was very clear about targeting refugee education in Jordan, Lebanon and marginalised children in the UAE who need protection,” said Ben Jaafar.

“What we are doing is not charity, we are not giving money. We are giving the gift of a credential or an education towards a pathway that leads to self-sustainability so that you can find solutions in your own community so that you can give back,” she added.

“Giving has been part of the family for generations and two key areas have always been education for the underprivileged and women empowerment,” said Hashwani. He gave an example of their Plan Bee project, which provides women in Pakistan with a secondary income by teaching them bee farming.

“Our philanthropic projects have to have an economic and social impact. But we don’t look for businesses that create social impact, we look for social issues that have the potential to create a business,” said Hashwani.

Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair: why it’s time to open up on charity

Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair has embarked a mission to help educate thousands of refugee children in the region – and wants to encourage others to do their part through open and institutionalised philanthropy

While charitable giving has long been a part of the Arab region’s history, social enterprises which combine donations and profit-making still face some regional challenges.

“There is yet no broad consensus on the definition of social enterprise, and no licence available for companies that put at the centre of their strategies a social or an environmental mission,” said Medea Nocentini, co-founder of Companies Creating Changes or C3, a UAE-based social enterprise helping entrepreneurs in the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey unlock their growth potential.

However the interest in social entrepreneurship is certainly there and has been growing over the past three years, said Nocentini.

“The MENA region faces many societal challenges, such as climate change, youth unemployment, and food insecurity. Emerging entrepreneurs not only want to solve those issues because they experience them on the ground, but they also see them as exciting business opportunities,” added Nocentini.

“The growth rate of entrepreneurs that apply to C3 programs went from a few tens in 2017 to more than 600 in 2020,” he said.

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